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Technology Changing Outcomes in Education

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An article in the August issue of Wired magazine about the Khan Academy and how it is changing the rules of education prompted me to write.  Back in 2006 when my neighbor’s son was a middle school student at McDonogh School, I heard his mother describe how the math teachers at McDonogh had created math instructional videos for the students to use to grasp mathematical concepts.  The part that resonated with me was her statement that her son would review the videos from their home computer as many times as necessary to grasp the topic before submitting homework or taking exams.  Although I was a good math student in high school, I remembered the experience of learning new concepts where I would either see the teacher or another student after class in order to better comprehend the methodology for solving the question.  The videos being used by my neighbor’s son substituted for the after class or after school in person tutorials I used to seek out. 

Since APUS courses are offered wholly online with no time for face-to-face instruction, we developed a number of math instructional videos using Camtasia tablet software and embedded them in our classrooms to supplement the instructional materials.  Later, we decided to make our math videos available to everyone on our American Public University iTunesU site  and our APUS Youtube channel.  Comments to the individual videos, primarily in the form of thank you’s, demonstrate the usefulness and the need for technology like this.  More recently, we partnered with McDonogh School to establish a website, www.campusmath.com, to offer primarily math videos to the public for an elementary school through high school curriculum.  While I can’t speak on behalf of McDonogh School, I think that both of our institutions are aligned with the belief that math skills need to be improved and providing access to these videos to teachers, students, and parents may contribute to improved skills without providing the teachers and professors inside of a physical or electronic classroom.

The article about the Khan Academy in Wired mentions a teacher at Santa Rita Elementary in California who uses the videos from the Khan Academy to replace some of her lectures and then spends more time in class working on problem sets.  Teachers using the Khan Academy videos and problem sets have access to a dashboard that lets them see exactly where the student is stuck on a particular concept or problem.  Increasing the amount of time spent in class solving problem sets provides the teacher with more one-on-one time with the students who need assistance.  Contributing Editor Clive Thompson mentions the 1984 Benjamin Bloom metastudy that measured the effectiveness of one-on-one tutoring versus general classroom instruction (two standard deviations more effective for one-on-one instruction).  Obviously, schools cannot afford to teach everyone one-on-one but technology is capable of assisting teachers and students to improve learning outcomes.  What prompted Khan to record his videos was the discovery that viewing videos over and over again in private is less embarrassing for the student than admitting in a one-on-one session that they still don’t understand the material.  Judging from the comments posted by students on our Youtube videos, Khan’s discovery is on track.

Based on the increasing frequency of its use in the classroom, technology continues to advance at a pace faster than the implementation capabilities of many of America’s K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.  At the same time, there are a number of educational innovators who are willing to experiment.  As Clayton Christensen points out in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, technology will ultimately provide educators with the ability to teach students with multiple learning modalities the intended lessons without impeding the highly talented individuals from learning more.  It is my hope that few institutions and regulators impede the innovation process.  (To read my review of Christensen’s Disrupting Class, see my August 2008 blog article.)

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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